The economic risk of government funding of social care at end of life "would not be that great", research suggests.
A major study commissioned by the National End of Life care Intelligence Network tracking how 73,000 people use publicly funded health and social care services.
The report Understanding patterns of health and social care at the end of life published by the Nuffield Health showed “considerable variation” in the use of social care between local authorities and between groups of individuals with certain long-term conditions: people with dementia, falls and stroke tended to use most social care services, while people with cancer used less.
It was also found individuals with the highest social care costs had relatively low average hospital costs irrespective of age, leading researchers to claim the use of social care may prevent the need for hospital care.
They argue this finding may become “increasingly important” if local authorities continue to restrict funding of care services to those people with the most critical needs only.
Researchers described the costs of social care for people at the end of life as “reasonably predictable”, and claimed the economic risk to the government of funding social care at the end of life – currently means-tested – “would not be great”.
“People are very vulnerable in the last months of their lives, and achieving appropriate and well coordinated care across health and social care is critical,” said Dr Martin Bardsley, Nuffield Trust Head of Research and report co-author.
“Our study suggests how social care might be effectively substituting for hospital care for this group of people.
"The worry is that if funding for social care is cut back, people may have no option but to use hospital care. This may not be the best care for people who wish to be at home in their last months of life, as well as costing far more for the NHS.
"Given the short- to medium-term financial climate, this type of analysis is critical now more than ever if more value for patients is to be extracted from public funds.”
In response to the report, Macmillan Cancer Support has called for free social care at the end of life as the report provides “compelling evidence” that it is achievable.
“Unless the Government implements this urgently, thousands of cancer patients will continue to end up dying in hospital wards unnecessarily,” said Mike Hobday, Director of Policy and Research at Macmillan Cancer Support.